Socialism takes a big step

Alan Maass reports from San Francisco on the second Socialism of the summer.
www.socialistworker.org | July 7, 2009

THE SECOND Socialism 2009 conference took place last weekend in San Francisco with over 900 people coming from up and down the West Coast and across the U.S. to attend sessions during the three days of political education and discussion.

San Francisco Socialism followed a similar conference held in Chicago at the end of June, which also drew more than 900 people, mainly from the East and Midwest.

This was the first year that Socialism--an annual event sponsored by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, and co-sponsored by SocialistWorker.org--was held separately in two cities. That decision clearly paid off--the total attendance between both conferences was nearly double that of last year.

The 900-plus attendance in San Francisco was well beyond the most optimistic expectations. "We set a goal of 400 or 450 a few months ago," said Todd Chretien, one of the main organizers of the Bay Area event.

"But then we got a big increase in registrations, and we were able to promote the conference widely on Bay Area radio stations like KPFA and KALW. Plus, there were people walking past the conference site in the Mission District, who heard that it was a meeting about socialism, and they decided on the spot to come inside. That tells you a lot about how open people are to these ideas."

Like Socialism in Chicago, the San Francisco event featured dozens of meetings held from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, plus a book fair and entertainment. The focus of the meetings ranged from activists in a variety of movements discussing the future of their struggles to writers and socialists presenting political theories and the history of radical struggles in the U.S. and beyond.

For many, the highlight of the weekend was a panel discussion and rally on Friday night titled "Prop 8 Is Going Down: Winning Equal Marriage in California."

Speaking the packed-out auditorium of the Women's Building, David McElhatton of One Struggle One Fight in San Francisco and Zakiya Khabir of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality gave powerful accounts of civil disobedience actions they helped organize after the California Supreme Court issued its ruling upholding Prop 8. Lonnie Lopez from Seattle described the growing movement for LGBT equality in his city, and Sherry Wolf, author of the new book Sexuality and Socialism, gave a stirring speech about the future of the movement.

Ashley Simmons, a member of the International Socialist Organization who is also active in One Struggle One Fight, was thrilled by the energy of the meeting. "In a new political era, it's clear that there's so much enthusiasm for building a new left," she said. "Friday night's panel showed that the LGBT struggle is the cutting edge of the struggle right now."

The conference got off to a great start Thursday night with several excellent sessions taking place. Planet of Slums author Mike Davis and labor journalist David Bacon took up "The Decline and Fall of California: How the Golden State Lost Its Shine," before an audience that sat or stood on every available space, including the wall behind the speakers. Down the street, at Modern Times bookstore, Nation sportswriter columnist Dave Zirin spoke alongside International Socialist Review contributor Elizabeth Terzakis on fighting for equality for women in sports. Meanwhile, actor and New York City teacher Brian Jones took the stage in the Women's Building to perform Howard Zinn's play Marx in Soho before an overflow audience.

On Sunday afternoon, Todd Chretien was joined by SocialistWorker.org columnist and author Sharon Smith for a rousing final rally on "The Return of Socialism," where they set out an optimistic view of the way ahead for activists.

In between, there were numerous sessions on a wide range of topics: Paul D'Amato, author of The Meaning of Marxism, cut through the myths and distortions to portray "The Real Lenin"; Jack Bryson, the father of two young men who were a few feet away from Oscar Grant when he was shot in the back by a police officer on an Oakland train platform, was joined by San Francisco 8 member Richard Brown and Campaign to End the Death Penalty activist Dana Blanchard in a discussion of political repression; and ISO member Jessica Hansen-Weaver described the life of socialist leader Eugene Debs.

Those who attended left with new ideas and knowledge to put to use in the struggles they're involved in. "I was excited to come here because I knew I would hear answers to a lot of different questions," said James Whitely, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who lives in Seattle, "and I did."